What I’ve learned from Ghostwriting.

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As I pass another significant milestone in my (crazy?) attempt to write one million words in two years, it occurred to me how much my outlook on the craft of writing has changed in eighteen months.

(Image: At night, by Georg Charwat)

In 2015, I embarked upon my personal challenge to write half a million words before the year ended. By the end of December, I was able to claim 502,000 words written in the form of stories, outlines and synopses. I’d fully intended to throttle back in 2016, but a busy first few months saw the numbers continue to rack up. As March came around, I realised I was already on target to complete 125,000 in the first quarter (4 x 125k = another 1/2 million, yeah?).

So I thought, why not go for the full million?

Yes, I know I planned to calm down in 2016, but my momentum was building, and by July, I’d achieved 3/4 million, and was (almost) on target to complete the full million by the end of the year.

It was an irresistible target.

*Pauses for breath*

Those who know me will have noticed I’ve been less active on social media and blogging since I began this crazy journey. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and something had to give. But just so you know, I’m planning to throttle back, to calm down, and take it easy with the writing in 2017.

Maybe.🙂

But eighteen months of writing at near-NaNo pace has taught me many things.

First of all, I realised I needed to be organised.

Although my spreadsheet is not yet as graphic as the one on the NaNo site…

graph

…I managed to put together a useful sheet that charts every word I write, although it still lacks the nicety of a graph(I will address this soon).

At the end of each day, I have a list of stories, both current and historic, on which I manually insert the word count of the project I’m working on, and it updates this, the daily count sheet.

target screen shot 2

A third sheet then tells me how many words I still need to write in order to reach my target of one million.

target screen shot 1

If I write less, the requirement rate rises. If I have a good day, and manage to write a few thousand, the requirement rate falls. You get the idea.

Without this, I would have little idea of my progress, and couldn’t plan my writing targets. Heck, if I hadn’t counted up how much I’d written in the first place, I could never have aimed for the half-million!

The uppermost spreadsheet allows me to chart my slow days, and my best days. Most of my writing happens mid-week, so I have an additional target cell for the ‘four day week’ period. If can fulfil those days, the rest of the week takes care of itself.

The second thing I learned was the need for self-discipline. It’s a quality needed by any writer who is serious about their craft. You might already know this, you might be learning this the hard way, or you might be blissfully unaware of the need, in which case, enjoy writing at your own pace. It’s wonderful, but not necessarily productive.

For me, the spreadsheet keeps me motivated. Creating a target of one million words is a harsh motivator, but an effective one. It’s quantifiable. If I don’t work hard, my assigned workload creeps up, and if left unchecked, it would reach a point where it becomes impossible. For now, 1,600 words per day is feasible, although I would have preferred it to be lower. That will only happen if I increase my output, but I only have a finite number of free minutes in my day.

You might prefer to set yourself number-of-chapter targets, or number-of-minutes per day targets. Work with whatever fits best into your life. For me, the word count ties in nicely with my short story work, which is measured (and paid) by the number of words produced.

The third thing I became aware of was the need for constant inspiration. My clients, for the most part, leave the subject matter up to me, although I’m supplied with a few words to point me in the right direction (e.g. romance, adventure, vampire, shifter, werecat, paranormal, time travel, sci-fi etc). This means I constantly need to dream up new scenarios for as-yet unwritten characters, and the stories must differ enough from each other to avoid brain-mashing confusion as well as potential plagiarism (of my own work!) issues.

The plus side of this is I often end up with spare story ideas, which I can then use to create short stories under my own name. Several times, I’ve begun writing for a client, only to realise the story has greater potential for an extended series, so why waste the idea on a one-off?

With that in mind, I keep the proto-series idea for myself, and write something new which better suits a one-off HEA (Happy Ever After) tale.

Win-win.😀

Finally, I had to embrace closure. Seasoned writers will appreciate how it’s possible to get close to characters, to want the best for them and leave them happy (or not, depending on the genre). Perhaps it’s so difficult to let them go, that sequels spring up, even a whole series. Not so with Ghostwriting. It’s necessary, even essential to learn to let go. Once they’ve flown the nest, they never write, never call and very rarely do they return for new adventures. I have fond memories of some of my creations (my Valkyrie women, to name one), but they’re gone, and I must move on…

I’d be interested in hearing from other ghostwriters who haunt the blogsphere. What has writing for others taught you? Do my experiences ring true, or do you feel differently?

Now I must return to my laptop and fulfil my allocation for the day (2,821 words) or I’ll fall further behind (it’s been a slow week).

I wish you all well in your endeavours.

If you enjoy it,

you should;

acern270ginger write on

PS I’ve now added a graph to illustrate my progress better. Plus, it adds a little colour. And it illustrates graphically that I’ve fallen behind my target.😦

screen shot progress graph

Six Sentence Sunday – on time!

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saavem swordsman

Today’s SSS is an extract from ‘A Vengeance of Angels’.  Again, it contains a mild spoiler if you haven’t read the first story; A Construct of Angels.’  So if you don’t want to know how the first book ends, please look away now.

.

Michael, now an ex-angel and mortal being, is being addressed by an elderly hospice patient – one who has a reputation as a seer…

.

Agatha Carpenter waved a bony finger at me and I felt the chill of one whose fate is irrevocably sealed.  I’d felt it before – as a doomed gladiator, as a convicted witch, as a Jew amongst the Nazis…

“The black swordsman is falling to Earth!” she wailed in a voice edged with hysteria.  “He seeks the one who shines most brightly – and all around him shall perish!” 

I knew a moment of panic. 

She could only be referring to one person; one Anakim…and he was coming for me.

.

Write on!

The BIG Giveaway…the results.

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Image courtesy of Cjcj at Stock Xchng

 

Twelve days have gone by since the Big Giveaway of ‘A Construct of Angels’ and as promised, I’m typing a few lines of feedback to let you know if I thought it was all worthwhile.

Before the giveaway, ‘Construct’ had sold eighteen copies.  That wasn’t a problem – I’d always imagined that my first novel would be a slow seller.  As I’ve told many people, I didn’t buy any of Robin Hobb’s books until she’d written six of them.  The first Harry Potter book I considered buying was ‘The Goblet of Fire’ – book four in the series.  E E ‘Doc’ Smith had written seven Lensman books before I ever laid eyes upon them.  Robert Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Andre Norton…all the same.

So I wasn’t expecting a stampede.

The weekend of the giveaway arrived – December 1st and 2nd.  I watched with barely-restrained anxiety.  Would anybody bother?  I’d Tweeted, I’d Facebooked, I’d emailed, I’d reTweeted, I’d told KindleBoards plus everyone who knew I’d published.  What more could I do at this early stage in my self-publishing career?  Ryan Casey had warned me to expect hundreds of downloads.  I saw twenty.  I stared at my tiny Netbook screen, waiting for the numbers to change, but they remained steadfastly low.  I refreshed.  Nothing changed.  I logged out and back in again.  Still no change.

It wasn’t until I realised that my Netbook was only displaying part of the Amazon KDP screen that the true scale of what had just happened hit me.

I’d had eight hundred and twenty-six downloads.
Smiley Faces
I looked again, scarcely comprehending.

How many??

Even now, nearly two weeks later, I can scarcely believe it.

So, to say that word got around would be something of an understatement.  With only Twitter, Facebook, Kindleboards, this blog and my contact list to work from, at least a thousand people had received the message that ‘Construct’ was up for grabs.

I’m happy to report that the first part of the exercise has been, without any shadow of doubt, a big success.

Now I can only wait and hope that the main object of the exercise, the procurement of some useful feedback, will bear fruit.  Even if only 5% of the readers leave positive feedback, that would still be forty reviews to strengthen ‘Construct’s credibility.

Fingers crossed and on with the sequel.

Write on!

The difficult second novel? Nah!

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inspiracion

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently well (15,500 words) into ‘A Vengeance of Angels’ (the sequel to ‘Construct’) and I’m re-discovering the joy of ‘pantsing’.

The writing is flowing well, still closely following the bamboo and creeper framework that I’d lashed together over a year ago when I was still begging agencies to consider ‘Construct’.

And this time around, I’m pleased to report, the writing feels different; more enjoyable.

With a year’s worth of editing  experience behind me, I have a clearer picture of the process from the first rough scratches through to the finished product.

I now know that I can roll along, throwing down my  ideas, comfortable in the knowledge that not everything I put into words will get used.  And with this comes a new kind of freedom from worry.

I don’t have to doublethink every sentence; every word uttered by my characters.   This time around I am aiming for continuity, rough adherence to the (flexible) framework but with a firm path towards the planned ending.

It’s refreshing to know that I don’t have to fret about what I’m writing – that can all be sorted out once the First Draft is complete – following the mandatory month-in-the-drawer, naturally.  What matters is that the ideas are recorded before they are lost to the white noise that is my ever-fizzing brain.

notebook and laptop

Experienced hands will already be aware of all this, so please forgive the egg-sucking instructions.

However, newbies may still (as I did) become mired in the spiralling hell that is the ‘must get that paragraph perfect before I move on’ routine.

Don’t!

Just pound that keyboard and pour all your relevant ideas onto that hard drive, pushing headlong until you have reached the end of your story.  That will then give you something to work with; something complete.

And if your Muse throws Chapter Two ideas at you when you’re racing through Chapter Ten, then by all means nip back, drop in a paragraph close to where it’s relevant and get right back to Chapter Ten.  Don’t (as I did) waste time and effort ‘blending it in’.  Just drag, drop and get on with it.  The idea will still be there in six months (more realistically, a year) when you are reviewing what you’ve written.

I regret now that I spent so much time ‘polishing’ what was essentially an unfinished product – a bit like applying sealant to a bath that was not only still in its packaging, but still on the delivery wagon.

If your story turns out to be anything like mine, in a year’s time, some of those ‘brilliant’ ideas may no longer be relevant.  Your character will (ideally) have grown as you’ve been writing and your original plan for them to rescue that drowning child in Chapter Two might no longer be in character for them.  You may need your character to be tortured and regretful by Chapter Twenty and NOT rescuing that child may be exactly what forces that character change.

So this is the point where, as they say, you don’t sweat the small stuff.  Not yet.

That comes later, once you’ve established all the motivations of your characters and where your story is heading…

Then begins the blood, sweat, tears and fingernail a la crue.

Writing is only the first part of the process.  Embrace the whole.

So;

Have you found that your approach to writing alters with experience?

What one piece of advice (post-it note sized only) would you give to your inexperienced self if you could get a message back to them using Sandra Bullock’s magical post box (The Lake House, 2008)?

Write on!

 

click me if you dare

Six Sentence Sunday

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An idea of heaven

As its Six Sentence Sunday, I thought I’d post another sample from my (soon to be Kindled) WIP ‘A Construct of Angels’.

This short extract describes Sara Finn’s experience as Michael (the Angel) decides to prove to her that he has a pure soul as opposed to the dark-souled, malevolent beings that she has encountered thus far.

Just prior to this extract, they touch the tips of their forefingers together, a gesture that instantly reminds Sara of the poster for ‘Bruce Almighty’.

Then;

I was suffused by a pure white Light that washed away all sight of the rain-lashed street outside.  The Light was more than just brightness – it was physical; tangible, rippling the air around me like a warming breeze on a spring day.

My eyes watered as waves of joy suffused me and I felt my hair floating freely around me, unhindered by gravity.  The Light flowed into my body to warm me from within, beginning in my bones, working outwards, infusing my muscles and my flesh with liquid bliss.  Every corpuscle of my blood sang in harmony, raising a forest of goosebumps on my skin.

I stared along my arm, following it to my crooked finger that pressed gently against a figure that was glowing, not through some trick of transparent skin, but from every molecule of his body that was alive and buzzing with Light. 

.

I hope that this helps to convey some of the wonder that she feels in his presence.

Write on, everyone!

 

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